Top Five: Classic F1 Circuits

5 08 2009

At the request of Chiz, we have the top five classic F1 circuits. To qualify a circuit has to have been used to host at least one Grand Prix in the Formula One Word Championship, so nothing before 1950. It also has to be no longer in use for F1, or have a different layout to its current one. So without further ado…

31. Montjuïc Park

Located around Montjuïc hill in Barcelona, the circuit held four Spanish GPs between 1969 and 1975 (alternating with Jarama in Madrid). The track compromised car set-up, with the first half of the anti-clockwise lap being slow and the latter half extremely fast. Ronnie Peterson’s 1973 lap record of 1:23.8 was set at an average speed of just over 100mph, which is staggering for a street circuit at the time. The track was dropped from the calender for safety reasons, before the 1975 race many drivers complained about the state of the track and reigning champion Emerson Fittipaldi pulled out. But the race went ahead, and on lap 26 Rolf Stommelen’s Hill crashed, leaving five people dead. Formula 1 never returned, but Fittipaldi did to drive a Lotus 72 for the circuit’s 75th anniversary celebrations in 2007 along with Marc Gene in a Ferrari 248.

2. Spa-Francorchamps 1950-1970

With the inaugural F1 World Championship in 1950 came a track which had existed since 1929. We’re concerned with the track as it existed before the Masta Kink was removed after the 1970 race. The circuit was essentially a triangle of public roads between the villages of Francorchamps, Malmedy, and Stavelot, and a daunting 15km at length. The current 7km track is known as a test of a driver’s skill, and includes some of the original corners such as La Source and Eau Rouge, but the original was a test of driver’s skill and nerve. The frighteningly quick track naturally resulted in large accidents, and as deaths increased, Jackie Stewart (the original standard bearer of F1 safety) focussed his efforts on getting the track changed, especially after his own accident there in 1966. Heading into Masta, he lost control, ending upside-down in the cellar of the farmhouse on the edge of the track with broken ribs and fuel leaking on him. The original track was used for sports cars until 1978, but the GP track has changed multiple times after the 1970 running.

3. Monza 1955, 1956, 1960, 1961

The 1922 track (see here) was refurbished for 1955 and was used for grands prix in the four above years. At exactly 10km long, and involving both the road circuit and banked oval with cars running parallel on the main straight, this was a daunting challenge in terms of the amount of speed the drivers were expected to carry around the track. This is another track that was lost to F1 due to tragedy. 1961 Championship leader, Wolfgang von Trips’ Ferrari collided with Jim Clark’s Lotus at Parabolica, he was thrown from his car as it launched itself into the crowd. Von Trips died with along with 15 spectators. The race wasn’t stopped, and von Trips’ Ferrari team-mate went on to win a bittersweet race and ultimately the Championship. Despite the fact that the accident didn’t involve the banking, F1 never returned, and now the Pista di Alta Velocità lie decaying in ruin.

4. Österreichring

After the one off 1964 Austrian GP at the nearby Zeltweg Airfield, the purpose built Österreichring was built just outside Spielberg among the mountains of Styria. The fast flowing circuit held 18 consecutive GPs from 1970-1987, and was an instant driver favourite. The first corner, Hella-Licht, was reprofiled into a chicane after Mark Donohue’s fatal accident in practice for the 1975 race, but safety concerns remained low from a driver perspective; Alain Prost repeatedly said that circuits could be changed for safety reasons, but the Österreichring should go untouched, just have some run off added. Ultimately safety ended this track’s life, the 1987 race had to be restarted twice due to accidents, and the circuit left the F1 calendar to return as the truncated A1 Ring in 1997. Here’s some footage of the end of the 1982 Austrian GP showing the flow of the track, and a close finish.

5. Nürburgring-Nordschleife

Well, I couldn’t very well leave this one out, could I? Based on Italy’s Targa Florio, the Eifelrennen was a race around open roads in the Eifel mountains, starting in 1922. Quickly this was deemed to be too dangerous and the decision was made to construct a purpose-built track, as had been done at Monza, and AVUS in Berlin. Unlike those pure speed bowls, this was a track designed to test speed and driver skill, as well as show off German engineering, and so the Ring opened in 1927. After the war, the full 28.265km circuit was no longer used for major races, instead the Nordschleife (Northern Loop) of 22.810km was utilised. The track held a round of the F1 World Championship 22 times between 1951 and 1976, the 1955 German GP was cancelled due to the Le Mans disaster that year, the 1959 race was held at AVUS, the 1960 German GP was an F2 race round the Südschleife, and the 1970 race was moved to the Hockenheimring after a driver boycott over safety. Recognised as the most challenging and dangerous track on the calendar, many drivers hated it, Jackie Stewart dubbed it The Green Hell, as the track involved little run off, and unshielded trees around much of the track with marshalls hid amongst the bushes. Stewart claimed it was better to go faster as you saw fewer dnagers that way. The only safety change added to the track was a chicane before the start/finish straight in 1967. As stated before, the 1970 race was moved to Hockenheim due to a driver boycott over safety, so for 1971, armco barriers were installed, and the bumps and jumps removed (yes, jumps, see below). The days of use of the track as an F1 circuit were numbered, after Niki Lauda’s accident there in 1976 (see my F1 comebacks post), the sport left the Nordschleife behind, only to return to the Ring and the new GP track in 1985. Happily though, the track is still maintained, and is open to the public to allow everyone to re-enact a few childhood dreams.

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